It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole when trying to find free to-do list apps and tools. There are too many available to choose from, and the best ones can be tricky to dig out.
In this article, I’ll share the best free to-do list apps available on the market, so that you can save time and swiftly decide which one you’d like to use.
Note: the apps discussed here are each available to use on all common mobile and desktop platforms: iOS (iPhone, iPad), Android, Windows, Mac and web browsers.
The benefits of using a to-do list app
Workplace tasks have become more complex and task lists continue to grow. In order to manage a to-do list productively, it’s next to impossible to keep everything in your head. Moreover, the traditional methods of tracking tasks with a pen and paper are no longer reliable. Gone are the days of having dozens of sticky notes around your screen.
When utilized correctly, high quality to-do list apps can significantly increase productivity alongside offering the following benefits:
- a stronger sense of accountability to get things done
- a clear visualisation of priorities for the day ahead
- an efficient way to share and collaborate on tasks with team members
- a feeling of order and structure
- a willingness to “schedule” time slots in order to fulfil tasks
- an ability to track progress on tasks
- a better understanding of whether a task can or should be delegated
- a tool that never forgets your tasks!
There are a number of best practices to follow to ensure to-do list apps are used effectively. Otherwise, they risk making you less productive. Make sure to review the linked article to prevent this from happening so that you can reap the benefits!
Let’s look at the best free to-do list apps that make a busy working life easier to manage.
Todoist is a product of Doist. It’s their dedicated to-do list app and arguably the most popular one used in the market. Todoist boasts of big companies using the tool, such as Amazon, Facebook and Disney, so you’re in good hands.
The development of Todoist has a cool entrepreneurial story. It was started as a side project by a university student in 2007, to now employing ~100 people and having helped millions of others manage their tasks more productively.
An intuitive tool, Todoist is very easy to use and you’ll have your day-to-day tasks embedded quickly. The mobile apps (both Android and iOS) are highly rated by thousands of users, and they offer a high quality experience that’s comparable to the desktop apps.
Key features of Todoist
- Filters for displaying tasks with defined priorities or assignees
- Subtasks can be set with a priority and schedule
- Invite other users to “projects” (which act as a collection of tasks)
- Delegate or assign tasks to other people
- Archive projects with tasks
- Drag and drop tasks from the “Today” view to postpone them to “Tomorrow”
- Option to enable and configure “Karma” – a rewards system for fulfilling task goals, and promoting task accountability
Pros and cons of Todoist
- Attractive user interface and easy to start using, with the option of enabling more advanced functionality if needed
- Create to-do lists in the form of “Boards” similar to a Kanban board (in addition to the traditional list view)
- Built-in calendar view – display tasks due, and quickly add new tasks to any day/date
- Many integrations available with other tools, apps, and services
- The premium plan is very affordable at $3 per month, and the additional features strengthen its offering
- Option to utilize at an enterprise level (i.e. with a team) through its Business plan
- An exceptional support network of staff and productivity experts leveraging the tool – built and improved with reputable productivity techniques in mind
- The free version has tight limits on activity history, file sizes for uploads, and the number of active “projects”
- Only 3 custom filters are permitted to help display tasks in different ways
Launched in 2013, TickTick was formed off the back of GTasks (which is its Android-only app that synced with Google Tasks). TickTick still maintains a lot of the base functionality of GTasks, however it has a lot more features, it’s more established in the to-do list software space, and it’s available to use on all common desktop and mobile platforms.
TickTick focuses entirely on productive task management via to-do lists. Its dedication to the area has led to a tool that’s slick, lightweight, and functionality has been developed based on the feedback from its users.
Getting up and running with TickTick takes a matter of seconds, and your task data is always in sync across all of the TickTick apps (including Android and iOS).
Key features of TickTick
- Include a task due time with due dates
- Create note lists in addition to task lists
- Text editor to customize the format of content/details within a task
- Implement default settings when a task is created
- Custom tags and lists with colours
- Real-time “Summary” of task statuses and changes, according to different settings applied – e.g. custom timeframes, tags and lists
Pros and cons of TickTick
- Loaded with features that are free to use, and that most other apps either don’t have or require a premium (paid) plan for
- Many options for sorting and viewing tasks, including the Kanban board view and custom “Sections”
- Drag and drop tasks underneath other tasks to automatically create subtasks – up to 4 nested subtask levels
- Control access levels for people invited to lists – edit, read-only, or comment-only access
- Neat premium features – task duration (with time blocks), and smart lists to show tasks in combined views such as due “Today” and “High Priority”
- Pricing of premium features is very competitive, at $2.79 per month
- Calendar view and activity history are premium features
- Although simple to use, it can be a little overwhelming initially for a beginner, with all of the available features (especially the options available within a task)
Microsoft products are not commonly associated with the term “free”, but their To Do tool is 100% free with no catches. All you need is a Microsoft account to sign in, and you can create one of those (also for free) within 2 minutes. If like me you have a few stale “hotmail” or “live” accounts, you can sign in using one of them too.
With over 5 million mobile app downloads on the Apple App Store (iOS) and Google Play Store (Android), Microsoft To Do makes it straightforward to create tasks and switch views to different areas within the app, instantly.
Evidently one of the most popular to-do list tools, it’s benefited hugely from acquiring Wunderlist in 2015 (a now discarded to-do list app). Microsoft To Do incorporates many features from Wunderlist, while keeping a large portion of its user base.
Key features of Microsoft To Do
- Integration with Outlook and Microsoft Teams
- Organization of lists into different groups and categories
- Manage daily tasks via “My Day” view
- Create “Steps” (i.e. subtasks), add notes and attachments, and configure repetitive tasks
- Share specific lists with other users
Pros and cons of Microsoft To Do
- Lightweight and simple to use
- Effortless to collaborate on lists with team members
- Seamless manoeuvring of data – shuffling, sorting, filtering, and searching through all tasks and lists
- Website addresses (URLs) automatically convert to clickable links
- Setup reminders irrespective of due dates
- Backed and maintained by a tech giant
- Too simple for power users who want more advanced task management functionality
- Limited views with no reporting options – lists are presented as a list with nothing more available
- No true subtasks – “Steps” can be created, but they are just as useful as notes, i.e. no due dates or other details can be added to a Step
- Lack of control when sharing a list – all users can edit anything within the list
Part of OpenGenuis, Ayoa is a popular suite of productivity apps that includes whiteboards and mind maps, as well as to-do lists. With over a decade under its belt in the productivity marketplace, Ayoa receives a lot of positive press and its client list comprises of leading global companies such as Samsung, Oracle and Salesforce.
To get going with Ayoa is quick and easy. Upon signing up to an account, you can have a fully fledged task list ready to plough through within 10 minutes.
Key features of Ayoa
- Start dates (and not only due dates) for tasks
- Set and show task progress as a percentage complete
- Checklists to break down larger tasks into smaller tasks
- Detailed activity log per task
- Custom cover images for task boards and individual tasks
- Collaborate with team members and colleagues
Pros and cons of Ayoa
- Many task board templates to select from
- Free and built-in access to other productivity tools: Mind Maps and Whiteboards
- Receive a daily automated email showing a summary of outstanding tasks
- Powerful search functionality to quickly identify what you’re looking for across all of Ayoa’s apps
- Comprehensive options for individual tasks – notes, comments, integration with Mind Maps, milestones, and muting notifications
- No single vertical task list view – the to-do lists are limited to a “task board” display, with the premium option of a Gantt chart
- Some basic features require a paid plan – filtering, tagging, and file attachments
- The user interface takes a little more time to get familiar with vs. other best free to-do list apps
- The Pro (paid) plan has strong features but pricing is steep, starting at $10 per month – although that includes access to premium features in Ayoa’s other productivity tools too
Of the best free to-do list apps, Dynalist is the least conventional. It uses a different approach by focusing on nested lists via a notepad-like display. The product came to fruition due to the company using Workflowy (another to-list tool) for managing tasks, yet being frustrated by that tool missing particular features. So, why not just build a new tool from the ground up that fits your needs perfectly? That’s exactly what the team at Dynalist did.
The app has a minimalist user interface (similar to a notepad page!), however it still packs the majority of features you’d expect among any of the best free to-do list apps.
I’d recommend reading the default “Getting started with Dynalist” document (which is essentially a list in itself), as this will help you maximize the benefits of the tool.
Key features of Dynalist
- Original layout vs. other best free to-do list apps – a notepad display using “documents” for grouping tasks
- Vast array of keyboard shortcuts for the desktop apps
- Internal linking between items
- Restrict searching to to-do list items within a specified document
- Invited guests can view a document without signing up for an account
- Export document and list data to a common (non-Dynalist) format
Pros and cons of Dynalist
- Create an unlimited number of documents and lists
- The user interface is minimal – void of any bloat from elements or features until you need to use them
- No restriction on nested levels – keep indenting and nesting as much as you’d like
- Bookmark documents, items, and even search results – save the important things to reference later
- Add images inline to a list – no need to upload an image file or link to it somewhere else
- Recurring dates for repetitive tasks, file attachments, and custom shortcuts, are all “Pro” features (needing a paid plan)
- The paid plan seems expensive at $7.99 per month
- Becoming competent with the full feature set requires some reading of the documentation, in addition to experimenting within the app
Do you agree with the best free to-do list apps outlined in this article? Feel free to leave a comment below and share your thoughts.